Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Smoke (¡Viva! Festival)

Josep Maria Miró Coromina
HOME
HOME, Manchester
07 April 2017 to 08 April 2017

HOME continues to promote the works of Catalan writer Josep Maria Miró Coromina with Smoke. The play is aptly named – great clouds of tobacco smoke hang over the stage. Filmmakers often use smoking as a shorthand way of letting the audience know that the hero has a flaw. In Smoke it represents betrayal, cowardice and deception – the staples of any drama.

In an unspecified developing country two couples are forced into unwanted intimacy by the outbreak of civil unrest that traps them in a hotel. Jaume ( David Fleeshman) is a writer suffering from both writer’s block and an encroaching physical disease that limits his typing ability while his wife Laura ( Meriel Schofield) feels unable to help and is so bored she desperately seeks any kind of stimulus even if it involves causing trouble for other people. They both smoke like chimneys. Younger couple Alex (Joe Shipman) and Eva (Katie West) are reformed smokers and are visiting the country in an effort to adopt a child. Even before Laura starts her manipulative mind games their relationship has become strained by Eva’s decision to sneak out of the hotel and photograph the riots.

The concept of mismatched couples becoming antagonistic is not new but Josep Maria Miró Coromina avoids the excess of plays like Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? The script is restrained almost laid back in the depiction of the situation. The actions of the characters seem minor but the consequences are devastatingly out of proportion. It is as if the characters are simply too worn out to argue passionately and so restrict themselves to small acts of betrayal. At times the characters seem to be suffering from cabin fever arsing from being enclosed for so long and to be experiencing the delirium of a waking nightmare. Jaume vividly describes watching the rioters close in on the hotel as a compulsive action – he simply cannot look away despite the danger – yet later he will be confused and wonders if he dreamt the whole thing.    

Director Walter Meierjohann tackles the challenges arising from a scratch performance in which the cast act script in hand by simply ignoring them. He sets the same standards that one might expect from a polished show. The set looks highly convincing as a hotel but then the props are borrowed from Jury’s Inn. Meierjohann does not allow the script in hand approach to limit the highly mobile production – at one point a fight scene sends a script crashing to the floor. 

The cast make excellent contrasting couples. Meriel Schofield brings a jittery almost fragile edge to Laura’s scheming that draws out the character’s underlying desperation. Katie West and Joe Shipman have the shabby shamed approach of a couple who feel obliged to hurt each other as repayment for some past grievance each though they can hardly justify their actions even to themselves.

Having seen both of the productions by Josep Maria Miró Coromina on offer by HOME one would have to say that Smoke is the better of the two.

The ¡Viva! Festival runs at HOME in Manchester from 31st March to 17th April 2017- details are available at https://homemcr.org/event/viva-spanish-latin-american-festival-2017/

Reviewer: David Cunningham

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